SPECIAL REPORT: A closer look at sovereign citizens

Published: Feb. 19, 2013 at 3:03 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2013 at 3:03 AM EST
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Hundreds of thousands of sovereign citizens currently live throughout the United States.

The FBI calls them "domestic terrorists." They're also known as extremists, radicals and defenders of freedom.

According to experts, sovereign citizens are Americans who think the laws don't apply to them.

Most of them have their own constitution, bill of rights and government officials.

Sovereign citizens can be dangerous and violent. There have been a number of cases where sovereigns took matters into their own hands by killing members of law enforcement.

"Officers never know when they are going to encounter a sovereign, who is fed up and not going to take it anymore and West Memphis, Arkansas happens all over again," said sovereign expert and Apex Police Detective Ben Byrne.

The national spotlight fell on Jerry and Joe Kane back in 2010 when they turned violent because of their sovereign beliefs.

Two West Memphis police officers were patrolling the interstate when they came across the Kanes. In a matter of seconds, a routine traffic stop turned deadly.

The father and son duo handed over their sovereign paperwork, pulled a gun, shot the officers and drove away. Both of the officers died at the scene.

Prior to the shooting, the Kanes were known as sovereigns and traveled the country spreading the word about their beliefs.

"It's a safety risk for citizens throughout the country and state as well as law enforcement dealing with those types of people," said Brunswick County Sheriff's Deputy Joe Cherry.

Cherry knows firsthand how sovereigns like to live outside the law.

"When she said 'I conditionally accept your offer to kidnap me' that's when I knew I was dealing with a sovereign citizen because they make these exaggerate complaints of officers kidnapping them," said Cherry.

Cherry was the deputy who tried to stop Jennifer Herring in 2012 after she was allegedly drinking and driving.

According to Cherry, Herring, a self declared sovereign, refused to accept any of the charges he was going to press against her.

Sovereigns tend to disobey state and federal laws and report to their own governing body.

Herring led law enforcement on a chase throughout Brunswick County before being arrested. However, Herring called 911 dispatchers during the chase and demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to be arrested.

"She's demanding money and it didn't register with me," said Cherry."I was more concentrated on the chase and what she was doing."

Herring repeatedly demanded money for what she considered a "kidnapping."

Herring told Cherry and 911 dispatchers that she would let Cherry arrest her, or kidnap her, if they paid her money.

"Any other time if I had never dealt with a sovereign citizen in the past I would have assumed she was consuming some sort of controlled substance to affect her behavior in the way that it was," said Cherry.

Experts say sovereigns are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol; rather they are influenced by their anti-government beliefs and are convinced they are their own entity.

"Sovereigns hold a lot of similar beliefs and will frequently talk about their beliefs when they encounter any type of law enforcement official or any type of government official," said Byrne. "So usually sovereigns are specific about what they have to say."

Byrne told WECT.com that their ideologies are convoluted and complex, but they are expressed in the simplest forms.

They don't vote and they don't pay taxes. They usually have fake licenses and license plates. They also don't recognize jurisdictions and don't follow laws.

Byrne said, "I don't like higher taxes either, but generally that's what sovereigns believe that they can pick and choose which laws apply to them and which don't."

When laws are enforced upon these radical anti-government citizens, they use the judicial system they don't support to press charges of their own.

"Basically these people make claims and they will spit them in a certain language and get you to agree," said Cherry.

Herring tried to get Cherry to agree to give her millions of dollars for arresting her.

"They say this person has agreed to give it to me by their own authority and I can take whatever is theirs and they go to the courthouse, file erroneous motions and different things like that, take out liens against officers which state law has now prohibited," he said.

It is now a felony in the state of North Carolina to file a false lien against law enforcement or officials. The register of deed is now allowed to deny these filings based on their initial thoughts or feelings on the filing. Brunswick County has not had any recent liens filed against a law enforcement member or elected official.

Experts say there are about 100,000 "hardcore" sovereign citizens and about 200,000, who are just starting out in their beliefs.

When a sovereign citizen doesn't pay taxes, the IRS investigates them. They usually submit what is called "sovereign paperwork" and then they are typically called "tax protesters."

The judicial system comes into play for those who don't comply with other laws. Those cases tend to be lengthy because of the paperwork filed on both sides of the fight.

Beginning this year, law enforcement is now required to be trained and certified in recognizing sovereign citizens. Members must complete their certification by the end of 2013.

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